Make mental health a priority when returning to work


As the state of Michigan begins to open up again and more employees head back to work, it’s important to make mental health a priority.

More employees are heading back to work with new concerns and extra stress due to COVID-19. From masks and social distancing to extra sanitizing and financial worries, some employees may be struggling with their mental health. That’s why it’s important to bring the conversations surrounding mental health into the workplace so employees know what kind of help is available.

A lot of employers are recognizing the need to ensure they have behavioral health benefits available to their employees. When employees are taking care of their mental health needs or their substance use needs, the employer will see improved productivity, improved attendance at work, and just overall better outcomes from the individual and their work performance. 

To help encourage important conversations, Priority Health put together a tool kit for employers that includes table tents, posters and other signage. These materials can be placed in break rooms or various areas throughout an organization to help bring awareness to mental health and break the stigma surrounding it.

When the employer is promoting behavioral health services, people feel more comfortable to reach out and explore what help might be available to them. In the past, there was a lot of concern about individuals seeking out services for fear of losing their job. However, employers have recognized the great benefit that can come to an individual by participating in counseling, and really them encouraging that reduces that stigma and fear for people to access care.

What employees may not realize is what exactly their coverage includes. For instance, it could be a certain number of counseling sessions on a short-term basis to help somebody through a crisis. It doesn’t always have to mean longer-term care or extra prescriptions, and it certainly shouldn’t come with judgment or a negative label.

We’ve come a long way in the mental health field with reducing stigma. However, we certainly have a long way to go yet in helping people feel comfortable, recognizing that there is a need for help and that help is available. There are many people who don’t know that they have behavioral health benefits available through their health plan and we should encourage people to explore those options and seek out those services that may be beneficial to them. When an individual is healthy and well in all aspects of their life, then we are stronger as a community.

Of course, every health plan is different in terms of what services are available. Check with your health insurance provider for available options. Remember that contactless virtual care is an option during COVID-19 if employees are not comfortable yet leaving home.

Stress and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 has taken a toll on many people’s mental health. Here are some options if you’ve decided you or a coworker could use some help:

  • Your health insurance company. Check with your health plan to see which resources are available for employees. For example, Priority Health provides members with information like what kind of help is available, what your plan will cover and how to find counselors or behavioral health care providers to meet your needs. An on-staff behavioral health team is available to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Priority Health also has partnered with a digital health specialist to offer free access to mental wellness resources specifically focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re a Priority Health member, you may have $0 cost share for behavioral health virtual visits through Dec. 31, 2020.
  • Your HR department. Many companies offer free access to employee assistance programs, or EAPs, such as Encompass. In 2020, these EAPs have ramped up their offerings to include extra support for COVID-19 concerns. Check with your human resources representative.
  • Disaster distress helpline. A 24/7, 365-day-a-year national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This multilingual and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Call 1 (800) 985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Online or virtual care. Try an online therapy session through a website such as 7 Cups, an online emotional health service provider. The app enables users to select listeners based on their preferences/experiences and anonymously chat via the platform 24/7. In times of emotional turmoil or stress, it is highly beneficial to talk to someone and this app offers a safe space to do that. Headspace is another free mental health resource for Michiganders during the COVID-19 pandemic offering meditations, at-home workouts and other help for stress and anxiety.
  • Community resources. For Michiganders in need of free or low-cost mental health, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has a county map of community mental health service programs.

See even more tips on staying mentally fit during COVID-19 here. If you’re finding yourself feeling more anxious than normal, follow these tips from certified Health & Wellness Coach Angie Horjus on staying calm during times of crisis.

Whatever tools you use for help, take the time to make mental health a priority at work and at home during this time of stress and uncertainty. Just like your physical health, it’s important for your overall well-being.

Jeff Greshak, LMSW, ACSW, is director of behavioral health at Priority Health with over 25 years of experience in the behavioral health and social work industries. He earned his Master of Social Work (MSW) from Grand Valley State University.

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